Gender & Society in the Classroom: Parenting
Organized by: Jennifer Haskin, Arizona State University
This section features a selection of 15 recent articles featured in Gender & Society between that are relevant to discussions about parenting. Also, because parenting has multiple meanings and is situated within and influenced by a variety of social and structural contexts, additional articles have been included that relate to mothering and fathering.
This research takes a look at how mothers and fathers in intact families spend time with their children, and asks, are there gender differences in quality and quantity of parenting time? Data come from the Australian bureau of Statistics Time Use Survey (1997), and the researcher categorizes child care into the following four categories: 1) Interactive Child Care, 2) Physical and Emotional Child Care, 3) Travel and Communication, and 4) Passive Child Care. Lyn finds that women spend more time physically caring for children (the time oriented, not so fun tasks), whereas fathers spend more interactive time with children (the unscheduled, fun, play oriented tasks). When factoring in “double activity,” mothers are more likely to be multitasking while caring for children. For example, cooking dinner for children while talking with them about their day in school. Fathers spend much less time alone with their children. More often than not, mothers are also present and are acting as the sole parent in charge. The author concludes that mothers spend more time providing care for their children – even when they work for pay outside of the home, and thus mothers are working harder than fathers.
Using in-depth interview data, this research explores how lesbian parents navigate their identities as mothers, fathers and – a hybrid of the two – “mathers.” Stemming in large part from social and legal discrimination, lesbian co-parents discuss the internal struggles they face in terms of their identities as parents. Many participants felt that their parental identity did not fit into the binary categories “mother/father,” and as such, constructed a hybrid identity, “mather.” This article is excellent for generating discussions of parental identity, and also the ways in which lesbian couples negotiate heteronormative assumptions with regard to women parents.
Rehel’s research explores how extended paid parental leave impacts whether new fathers develop parenting skills that we typically associate with mothers. By using a sample of mothers and fathers from three geographic locations, Rehel is able to highlight the role of paid parental leave policies on household division of labor and parenting. See here for my extended discussion of this research.
This qualitative research uses Foucault’s concept “truth regime” to explore the practices that parents of gender-variant children employ as they negotiate and strategize parenting children whose gender identity is non-binary. Rahilly’s findings suggest that parents work to maintain a boundary around when and where gender non-conforming presentations were allowed through a practice she terms, “gender hedging.” Also, to further understand gender-variant children, and garner a sense of “gender literacy” and community, Rahilly finds that parents in this sample often turned to the internet. Finally, findings suggest that parents of gender-variant children make conscious choices as to when to “play along” with others’ misconceptions about their children, and when to speak out in support of their child’s gender nonconformity.
Using Lareau’s (2003) framework that “good” parenting for contemporary parents has evolved into a project of “concerted cultivation,” Blum uses interview data as well as ethnographic fieldwork to explore how mothers of children with invisible disabilities evaluate themselves as caregivers. This research is particularly important, as there are an increasing number of children, in particular boys, who are being diagnosed with AD/HD, dyslexia, and mood disorders. Blum finds that mothers of children with invisible disabilities internalize self-blame, felt that others’ blamed them for their children’s disabilities (especially if they do not make an extreme effort to advocate for their children), and often share the stigma of the disability with their children. Acting as a “vigilante” advocate for their invisibly disabled child was common, particularly in terms of the children’s education and medical needs. These mothers relentlessly pursued services and experts in order to help their children. Blum concludes that the mother valor/mother blame dichotomy look much the same for the mothers of children with invisible disabilities.
Using longitudinal qualitative data, this research focuses on how women themselves engage with the discourse that surrounds cultural expectations with regard to mothering and motherhood experiences. This article focuses on those who fit the stereotype of “good mother,” (i.e., married, white, and middle class). Their relationship to popular discourses is of particular interest to the author, in large part because of their social status…is it harder for them to resist because they fit the “good mother” stereotype? Miller highlights women’s experiences during the prenatal, and early motherhood stages to explore women’s expectations as they correspond to each stage versus their actual experiences.
This research utilizes quantitative methodology to answer the question, “Do women who value success in paid work consider motherhood less important?” Using Rational Choice/Economic, Culture and Identity, and Life-course/Situational approaches, McQuillan, et al., find that despite popular cultural beliefs, women can and do indeed simultaneously value paid work and motherhood. Further, the authors find that valuing work success is positively associated with valuing motherhood.
Jacobs, Janet, and Stefanie Mollborn. 2012. Early Motherhood and the Disruption in Significant Attachments: Autonomy and Reconnection as a Response to Separation and Loss among African American and Latina Teen Mothers.Gender & Society 26(6): 922-944.
Using life history narratives of 18 African American and 30 Latina young women, this research explores strategies African American and Latina teen mothers use in response to disruption in significant attachments that occur as a result of their teen pregnancy. The authors find that becoming autonomous, and being emotionally strong (i.e. accommodating the “strong black woman” stereotype) were strategies girls used in effort to repair damaged relationships, often at the expense of their own well-being. Additionally, a majority of the teen mothers in this study turned toward their relationships with their children, developing deep connections with their own children. This is a helpful resource for generating discussions that challenge popular conceptions of why teen girls become mothers, what happens to their familial bonds when they do become mothers, and how teen mothers negotiate and repair fractured relationships.
This research explores mothering strategies employed by Filipina domestic workers employed in Hong Kong. Peng and Odalia’s findings suggest that mobile phones provide transnational mothers with a means by which to engage in intensive mothering from a distance. As well, mobile phone technology enables transnational mothers to collaborate with those who are caring for their children. This finding could lead to fruitful discussions about gendered parenting ideologies. Finally, the authors find the mothers in this study also experience pain as a result of being indirectly involved in their children’s day to day lives. Instructors may consider pairing this reading with Dreby, Joanna. 2006. Honor and Virtue: Mexican Parenting in the Transnational Context. Gender & Society 20(1): 32-59.
This article explores the narratives of 25 mothers who either followed an alternative vaccination schedule, or refused vaccines for their children altogether. Through an analysis of interview data, Reich shows how neoliberal mothering and privilege underlie vaccination related decisions mothers make when doing what they feel is best for their children. This article would make for fruitful discussions about neoliberalism, intensive mothering and privilege.
Shows and Gerstel utilize survey, interview and observational data to examine the role of social class in shaping the way that men engage in fatherhood. Participants were selected from two male dominated occupations within the same sector with characteristics that are linked to social class – namely EMTs and physicians. Findings suggest that social class plays a significant role on the type of fathering that men do. Specifically, Shows and Gerstel explain that the physicians they sampled prioritized breadwinning and were more engaged in “public fathering” and being involved in special events such as sporting and school events, while distancing themselves from the everyday care of their children. Physicians, by virtue of their class status (upper-middle class), and family status (most had wives that were either stay-at-home mothers, or worked outside the home on a part-time basis) were more able to maintain separate home/work spheres. EMTs, on the other hand, did not prioritize work over family. The EMTs in the sample reported participating in public events and participated in and prioritized the daily lives of their children – or private fathering. This participation was enabled not only by the varied schedule of the EMT job, or the mothering work performed by their wives, but also the relationships that the men had with co-workers. Shows and Gerstel conclude that at least for these two groups of men, class shapes fathering.
This research relies on interview data from fathers of teenage children to explore how fathers think about their children’s sexuality, and the ways in which gender and sexual norms are communicated both informally and formally. Many of the fathers interviewed described their role in communicating information about sex and sexuality as nonexistent. Informally, however, Solabello and Elliot found that although none of the fathers claimed to assume heterosexuality, norms about sexual behavior and sexuality reflected a gendered pattern. Fathers wanted their daughters to refrain from engaging in sexual relationships, and felt less accountable for their daughter’s sexuality. On the other hand, fathers encouraged their sons to date, and considered their sons consumption of pornography as indicative of a heterosexual identity. The authors conclude that the lessons that fathers teach their teenage children ultimately reinforce gender binaries and privilege heterosexuality.
Drawing on telephone interview data, this study explores the ways in which families with stay-at-home fathers reduce gender inequality, and seemingly “undo” gender at the interactional level as a result of structural shifts (in this case, the job market). Chelsey argues that while the stay-at-home father is not a typical family arrangement, it is an increasing phenomenon that carries the potential for institutional change – especially when fathers re-enter the workplace. Data from this study suggest that at-home father family forms appear to provide an increase in support for women’s participation in paid work. Furthermore, this research makes evident that stay-at-home fathers’ evaluations of the value of unpaid labor (domestic work and childcare) are strengthened by their experience. Finally, Chelsey suggests that with the non-traditional family form breadwinning mother/stay-at-home father, parenting can become more equal; particularly when fathers expand what and how much they do, and mothers remain heavily involved.
Through an analysis of 26 interviews with teen fathers, this research explores the ways in which young men discuss becoming fathers at a young age. Weber focuses on young men’s narratives of responsibility to get at “what happened.” Findings suggest that while none of the teen fathers denied fathering a child, they did utilize the following gendered discourses as they denied responsibility. First, teen fathers placed responsibility on others, particularly the teen mother. Second, teen fathers talked about being unable to control their desires, and got lost in the “heat of the moment.” Finally, teen fathers talked about being in love. This article is a good resource for generating discussions of teen fatherhood and masculinity.
This research draws on a large ethnographic study of middle-class families to examine men’s discourses about and during their children’s sports activities. Through both ethnographic research, and semi structured interviews, Lucas and Kremer-Sadlik explore the ways in which children’s team sports provide an avenue for fathers to practice “good” fatherhood. The authors find that sports offer a unique (and gendered) opportunity for fathers to be involved in their children’s lives – often at the expense of paid work. Team sports also provide an opportunity for fathers to engage in “caring fatherhood.” At the same time, the authors argue, fathers want their children to do better, and be successful at their sporting activity. Maintaining a balance between care and support (inclusive masculinity), and pushing to succeed (orthodox masculinity) is a challenge for some fathers. Further, the authors suggest that involvement in youth sports may be a factor in middle-class men’s lack of participation in domestic and childcare tasks in the home. Finally, Lucas and Kremer-Sadlik conclude that youth sports is an arena where men can practice “good” fatherhood without stepping out of the boundaries of either inclusive, or orthodox masculinity.
Drawing on 68 interviews with South Korean students at elite U.S. colleges, this article examines the intersectional power of gender and class in elite transnational parenting—a family strategy for class reproduction. Well-educated, stay-at-home mothers intensively managed their children’s school activities, often relying on gender-segregated networks, mostly during early school years. By contrast, cosmopolitan professional fathers heavily engaged in guiding their children’s education abroad and career preparation in later years, using their class resources (i.e., English proficiency, professional careers, and social networks of other elites). In high-achieving children’s narratives, mothers’ lifelong care for and management of their private life was undervalued and criticized, while fathers’ growing involvement in their higher education and career was highly valued and appreciated. The elite fathers’ occasional yet detailed involvement challenges the dichotomy that has long stereotyped Korean—or East Asian—mothers as overinvolved and fathers as distant in their children’s lives, especially with regard to education. Gender, through intensive parenting, reinforces and reproduces class disparity between elite couples and within their families.
Drawing on theories of masculinities, I analyze how a U.S. government funded “responsible fatherhood” program utilized a political discourse of hybrid masculinity to shape disadvantaged men’s ideas of successful fathering. Using data from three sources that uniquely traces how this discourse traveled from policy to program implementation—including analysis of the curriculum, in-depth interviews with 10 staff, and in-depth interviews and focus groups with 64 participating fathers—I theorize hybrid fatherhood. As a discourse of paternal involvement that incorporates stereotypically feminine styles such as emotional expressiveness, hybrid fatherhood discursively reconfigures patriarchy by drawing distinctions between mothering and fathering and dominant and subordinate forms of masculinity as they relate to men’s parenting. I analyze how the promotion of hybrid fatherhood for poor men of color legitimates and sustains gender, race, and class inequalities through U.S. welfare policy.
This study extends our understanding of the positive relationship between kin-based child care support and mothers’ ability to stay in the workforce by examining why and how women seek such help. Using 100 in-depth interviews with Korean mothers, I find that although child care provided by grandmothers helps mothers maintain their employment, a mother will ask for support only when she constructs strong career aspirations and generates agreement amongst family members that she deserves support. Both of these center around the notion of who deserves to work as a mother. Mothers’ explanations of why they deserve support vary based on their educational backgrounds: less-educated mothers stress economic stability, whereas better-educated mothers emphasize the symbolic meaning of sustaining their high public status. Most mothers, however, feel the need to “prove” to themselves and to certain others that they deserve child care support. Based on these findings, I develop a theory of deservingness to explain how mothers account for their work and make decisions to seek child care support.
This study examines negotiations of motherhood among women in the illegal hard drug economy in Norway. Based on interviews with mothers who are users and dealers, this study analyzes four predominant maternal identities: grieving mothers, detached mothers, motherly dealers, and working mothers. Particularly relevant factors explaining variations in maternal identities include the timing of pregnancy, time spent with children, control over drug use, and place in the drug market hierarchy. By revealing patterns of intra-group variations by gender performances and work situation, the study expands upon previous work on how mothers who are structurally disadvantaged negotiate motherhood ideals.
Michael Enku Ide, Blair Harrington, Yolanda Wiggins, Tanya Rouleau Whitworth, Naomi Gerstel. 2017. Emerging Adult Sons and Their Fathers: Race and the Construction of Masculinity. Gender & Society 32 (1): 5-33.
Challenging the public dichotomy characterizing fathers as “involved” or “absentee,” we investigate racial variation in college men’s perceptions of their paternal relationships and the gendered constructions these promote. The analysis draws on intensive interviews (n = 76) with Asian American, Black, and white sons from one university and survey data (n = 1,576) from 24 institutions. In both data sets, Asian Americans and Blacks describe greater paternal distance than do whites. This conceals variations in sons’ understanding of fathers. Asian Americans often criticize their fathers’ distance, disidentifying with the near-exclusive focus on breadwinning they describe among fathers. In contrast, Blacks and whites normalize and identify with their dads. Blacks emphasize the “laid-back,” “cool” masculinity their dads impart, while whites often emphasize the independent masculinity based on mentorship and friendship their dads offer. Recasting sociological theories, we argue these differences emanate from divergent structural contexts, but more importantly, cultural conceptions of fatherhood, race, and gender as well as public discussions that valorize white models of fatherhood.
Researchers have documented the dominance of intensive mothering ideologies and their impact on mothers and their families. However, the effect of these ideologies on childless women has received little attention. I draw on interview data to examine the parenting ideologies of childless women with electively frozen eggs. I demonstrate that incorporation of and commitment to intensive mothering ideologies affect fertility decision making among these childless women. I find that concerns about the heavy burdens of intensive motherhood, coupled with unsupportive partners and workplaces, produce ambivalence toward childbearing and a strategy of fertility postponement. I extend the literatures on intensive mothering, reproductive decision making, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), and elective egg freezing by identifying egg freezing as an expression of the gendering of fertility risk and as a means of “doing security.” Participants view egg freezing as a means of managing risk in two primary ways: as a means of securing access to biogenetic motherhood by managing biological risks of infertility and fetal genetic abnormality, and as a means of enabling intensive parenting by managing temporal risks inherent in coordinating careers, relationships, and childbearing.
This article presents an investigation of the dynamics of women’s gender attitudes from the perspective of women’s conflicting employment and child-rearing responsibilities. It examines the independent and joint effects of motherhood and employment on gender attitudes using combined data from the British Household Panel Survey and the Understanding Society panel study. The results of fixed effects models show no evidence supporting a direct influence of either motherhood or employment on women’s attitudes toward a traditional division of labor. However, changes in attitudes are observed when motherhood and employment statuses are considered jointly. Specifically, women are less traditional after the transition to motherhood than before only if motherhood is combined with full-time employment. By contrast, women are more traditional after the transition to motherhood than before only if motherhood coincides with their withdrawal from the labor force. These associations remain robust after considering feedback from earlier attitudes. All the findings suggest that the emergence and realization of incompatibility between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities reshape women’s gender attitudes during the transition to motherhood.
Feminist scholars have been critical of the expectations placed upon mothers to accomplish a perfect version of motherhood, but have often failed to interrogate the values about normalcy and disability imbedded in modern mothering ideologies. Mothers with disabilities are well positioned to expose the underlying beliefs about normalcy with which all mothers must contend. Drawing from interviews and focus groups conducted with mothers who have physical and sensory disabilities, I explore Deaf/disabled women’s experiences negotiating the scientific motherhood regime. Illuminating a paradox, I argue these women are labeled “risky mothers” under scientific motherhood, which prizes the management of risk and the prevention of disability. Yet, these mothers are simultaneously rendered invisible by inaccessible and inflexible medical practices, and by a consumer market of expert advice which prescribes that mothers inhabit a typical body. These women’s experiences illuminate the normalcy project as a central tenet of scientific motherhood.
Jerry A. Jacobs, Kathleen Gerson. 2015. Unpacking Americans’ Views of the Employment of Mothers and Fathers Using National Vignette Survey Data: SWS Presidential Address. Gender & Society 30 (3): 413-441.
Drawing on findings from an original national survey experiment, we unpack Americans’ views on the employment of mothers and fathers with young children. This study provides a fuller account of contemporary attitudes than is available from surveys such as the General Social Survey. After seeing vignettes that vary the circumstances in which married mothers, single mothers, and married fathers make decisions about paid work and caregiving, the respondents’ views swing from strong support to deep skepticism about a parent’s work participation, depending on the parent’s specific job conditions and family circumstances. When a mother, whether married or single, is satisfied with her job and her family depends on her income, respondents overwhelmingly support the option to work. Conversely, when a father is dissatisfied with his job and the family does not depend on his income, respondents generally support the option to stay home. These findings provide insight regarding the “gender stall” thesis by showing that Americans’ views depend heavily on the circumstances they believe parents are facing. This more nuanced view highlights the importance of social context in the allocation of paid work and caregiving for both mothers and fathers.
Previous research suggests that there are important gender disparities in the experience of leisure, but the issue of how mothers and fathers experience free time emotionally remains overlooked. The present study addressed this lacuna using the Experience Sampling Method and survey data from the 500 Family Study. Results showed that mothers and fathers spent the same amount of time on leisure activities. However, mothers had slightly less pure free time than fathers and were more likely to combine leisure with unpaid work or spend time in leisure with children. Multilevel analyses showed that pure free time was associated with increased positive affect and engagement and decreased negative affect and stress, as was the combination of free time with unpaid work and personal care. These trends did not differ by gender. Adult leisure and free time with children were also beneficial to parents’ well-being. However, the relationship between free time with children and positive affect was stronger among fathers, whereas the association between adult leisure and engagement was stronger among mothers. These results suggest that mothers may feel more anxious about being criticized by others when engaging in leisure with their children, whereas spending time with adults alone may free them from the pressures of “good mothering.”
Through 60 in-depth interviews with African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this article examines how the controlling image of the “thug” influences the concerns these mothers have for their sons and how they parent their sons in light of those concerns. Participants were principally concerned with preventing their sons from being perceived as criminals, protecting their sons’ physical safety, and ensuring they did not enact the “thug,” a form of subordinate masculinity. Although this image is associated with strength and toughness, participants believed it made their sons vulnerable in various social contexts. They used four strategies to navigate the challenges they and their sons confronted related to the thug image. Two of these strategies—experience and environment management—were directed at managing characteristics of their sons’ regular social interactions—and two—image and emotion management—were directed at managing their sons’ appearance. By examining parenting practices, this research illuminates the strategies mothers use to prepare their sons to address gendered racism through managing the expression of their masculinity, racial identity, and class status.
Many parents and child-rearing experts prefer that children exhibit gender-normative behavior, a preference that is linked to the belief that children are, or should be, heterosexual. But how do LGBTQ parents—who may not hold these preferences—approach the gender socialization of their children? Drawing on in-depth interviews with both members in 18 LGBTQ couples, I find that these parents attempt to provide their children with a variety of gendered options for clothing, toys, and activities—a strategy that I call the “gender buffet.” However, the social location of the parents influences the degree to which they feel they can pursue this strategy of resistance. Factors such as race, social class, gender of parents and children, and level of support of family and community members contribute to the degree to which LGBTQ parents feel they can allow or encourage their children to disrupt gender norms.
Klaus Preisner, Franz Neuberger, Ariane Bertogg, and Julia M. Schaub. 2019. “Closing the Happiness Gap: The Decline of Gendered Parenthood Norms and the Increase in Parental Life Satisfaction” Gender & Society 34 (1): 31-55.
In recent decades, normative expectations for parenthood have changed for both men and women, fertility has declined, and work–family arrangements have become more egalitarian. Previous studies indicate that the transition to parenthood and work–family arrangements both influence life satisfaction and do so differently for men and women. Drawing on constructivism and utility maximization, we theorize how gendered parenthood norms influence life satisfaction after the transition to parenthood, and how decisions regarding motherhood and fatherhood are made in order to maximize life satisfaction. We hypothesize that the rise of gender-egalitarian patterns has contributed to closing the parental happiness gap, and that the effects of motherhood and fatherhood on life satisfaction have converged. We test these assumptions by drawing on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (1984-2015) and applying a series of hybrid panel regressions to estimate motherhood and fatherhood effects on life satisfaction in Western Germany over the last three decades. We then trace trends in these effects back to changing parenthood norms. The results indicate that the implications of parenthood have converged for men and women. As support for a gendered division of labor has lost ground, the transition to parenthood has become increasingly conducive to life satisfaction for both genders, and the parental happiness gap has vanished.
An extensive body of research documents that women experience a motherhood penalty at work whereas men experience a fatherhood premium. Yet much of this work presupposes that employers are aware of a worker’s parental status. Given the different consequences that parenthood has on outcomes such as pay and promotions, it is conceivable that men and women may deploy their status as parents differently when interacting with employers. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a racially diverse sample, this article examines how mothers and fathers working in the service sector use their parental status when negotiating work and child care responsibilities. Mothers, particularly black mothers, were less likely to openly discuss their children at work. In some cases, women purposefully concealed from their employers the fact that they were mothers or found other ways of signaling their commitment to their jobs. Fathers, on the other hand, were more likely to discuss their children with their employers and overwhelmingly characterized their managers as understanding of their parenting obligations. Together, these findings help us understand how mothers and fathers navigate the consequences of parenthood in the workplace and add nuance to previous studies of motherhood penalties and fatherhood premiums.